On International Women’s Day, the Premier of Alberta is framing his election campaign around an attack on women’s hard-earned equality gains
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour is marking International Women’s Day by standing up for women’s jobs and equality gains in the public sector.
The majority of Alberta’s public sector workers – those who work in health care, education, in cities and towns, seniors’ care – are women.
“The Prentice PCs are gearing up for a multi-million-dollar election campaign that targets women’s modest wage gains in the public sector,” Alberta Federation of Labour Secretary Treasurer Siobhan Vipond said. “When Jim Prentice talks about health care, education, and public service workers, he is talking about women. When Jim Prentice blames public sector workers for his government’s appalling record of tax and royalty giveaways, what he is really doing is blaming Alberta women—who earn just 63 per cent of what men earn—for his government’s reckless tax and royalty giveaways.”
An AFL analysis of public sector wage settlements in Alberta, released for International Women’s Day, showed public sector wage settlements between 2011-2014 delivered a modest 8.8 per cent of cumulative increases. The majority of the workers covered by these collective agreements were women.
By contrast, Alberta’s oil and gas sector workers saw a 17 per cent increase in their average weekly earnings between 2011-2014. Construction workers saw a 14 per cent gain. Managers of companies also saw a 17 per cent gain, while those in finance saw a 13 per cent increase in their annual earnings.
Vipond says Alberta women benefit from a wage advantage in the unionized public sector. But economy-wide, Alberta is the most unequal province in Canada. “When Alberta women look in the mirror, they see the highest levels of inequality in Canada,” Vipond said.
“The unions that represent women in the public sector have delivered pay equity, modest but reliable pensions, and health and safety protections,” Vipond said. “When we struggle for dignity and fairness in the workplace, women are the beneficiaries.”
Fifty-five per cent of Alberta’s overall unionized workforce, in both the public and private sectors, are women.
The Alberta Federation of Labour advocates that:
- Alberta remains the only jurisdiction in Canada without a voice for women in government. Alberta should establish a free-standing Status of Women ministry.
- Alberta has among the lowest number of child care spots and the highest child care fees in Canada. Public early childhood education and child care must be a priority if Alberta is to achieve better wage equality and educational outcomes for children
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail [email protected]
Project flagged Alberta’s failing grade on early childhood education
Edmonton – The government’s decision not to continue the Early Childhood Mapping Project will hurt children and families.
Using international standards for establishing Alberta’s early education baseline, the Early Childhood Mapping Project (ECMap) found that 29 per cent of Alberta’s young children experience developmental difficulties. These findings helped forge an emerging national consensus of early childhood learning, education and care.
“The ECMap Project did world-class work on a measly budget of $5-million a year. The project’s major report was up on the ECMap website for two days, before the government asked that it be taken down,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Instead of being proud of the good work of this project, and instead of making their report widely available, the Government of Alberta has instead chosen to shut it down.”
The program found that investing in public, non-profit learning and care environments for children under the age of five is essential to ending child poverty. Such programs prepare children for the demands of Grade One, and improve health and social outcomes throughout the children’s lives.
“The decision to axe this program flies in the face of Tory promises to end child poverty in Alberta,” McGowan said. “The Government’s actions show that early childhood education and care aren’t a priority for them.”
The Alberta Federation of Labour is advocating for concrete action to be taken by government on child poverty and on early childhood programs. At the Federation’s convention in 2013, hundreds of delegates unanimously passed motions calling for public child care. Rank-and-file members, elected union representatives and staff have actively lobbied MLAs for more funding of public child care.
“Some MLAs in the PC caucus do seem to understand the need for public investment in early learning and high-quality child care,” McGowan said. “Just last week, Edmonton Southwest MLA Matt Jeneroux had a motion passed in the Legislature that urged the Government to review child care policies to ensure that accessible, high-quality, and affordable child care is available for all Albertans. Unfortunately, the government has not taken concrete action.”
“This is an issue that matters deeply to our membership. Alberta’s union movement is now 54 per cent women. While this is an issue that affects all workers and their families, it’s an important area of social policy for women workers in particular. The AFL is committed to making sure the government hears the will of our membership loud and clear,” McGowan said.
For more information on the Early Childhood Mapping Project, see:
For the full text of MLA Matt Jeneroux’s motion, see:
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail [email protected]
Nurses, teachers, health sciences professionals, and public employees urge government to listen to majority of Albertans
Edmonton - Labour leaders are standing up for the majority of Albertans who do not want to see public services cut on March 7.
At a joint press conference on Monday, March 4, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Edmonton, the presidents of the province's six largest public sector unions and associations urged Alison Redford to listen to Albertans, most of whom want their public services protected. The Alberta Federation of Labour, Alberta Teachers' Association, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Canadian Union of Public Employees-Alberta, Health Sciences Association of Alberta and United Nurses of Alberta have decided to join their voices together to send a clear message about the upcoming budget.
Polling, conducted by Environics from February 14-21, shows that more than 70 per cent of Albertans reject the idea of cuts to public services. More than three quarters of those polled agree that there should be an increase on taxes for the wealthy and corporations.
Far from thinking the government should cut public services, the majority of Albertans believe we should be investing more in health care, education, and other services. Albertans see a growing province, a booming economy, soaring corporate profits and low unemployment, and they're confused as to why health care, education, and community services still don't have the resources they need to do the job right.
Albertans were clear in their message that they support the need for some increased revenues, but that they reject the idea of a sales tax. Only 17 per cent of those polled were in support of a provincial sales tax, 72 per cent said they would be in favour of returning to a progressive income tax, and 77 per cent were in favour of increased taxes on corporations and those who make more than $200,000 per year.
When asked about spending, respondents identified several priorities: Creating a provincial strategy for long-term care for seniors was a high priority for 70 per cent of respondents, while protecting publicly-funded health care against for-profit health care was identified as a high priority by 57 per cent. Nearly half of respondents said that hiring more teachers and support staff for elementary and secondary schools was a high priority.
The government is trying to justify massive cuts to health care and education by saying oil prices have dipped. Albertans aren't buying it. Albertans know a growing economy needs adequate investment in public services.
Because labour leaders were concerned about the direction that budget discussions had been going, they commissioned a poll by Environics Research Group to find out what Alberta are looking for. The poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 Albertans, is considered to have a margin of error of +/- 3.1, with a 95% confidence level.
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email [email protected]
Alberta women falling behind, say union leaders: Labour calls for government action to end gender inequality
"Alberta's women continue to suffer inequality, especially in the workplace," says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
"This unfairness is felt at all levels of society. On average, Alberta women earn 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. However, Alberta women with university degrees earn only 67 per cent of the wages earned by men with similar degrees. Women managers in Alberta earn 86 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn," says Furlong.
"Meanwhile, those who are most vulnerable also suffer. While most Albertans saw their incomes rise between 1989 and 2008, families headed by female lone parents have seen a drop in incomes, leaving the province with the highest lone-parent poverty rate in Canada - 24 per cent here compared with 16 per cent for Canada as a whole," she says.
A total of 27 union leaders today lobbied more than a dozen MLAs from the government - including three cabinet ministers - and from opposition parties and called for the province to name a minister responsible for the Status of Women.
"The Alberta government is lagging other provinces in acting to address gender inequality. Naming a minister responsible for the Status of Women will help ensure that Alberta women don't fall any further behind. It will provide much-needed focus on an issue important to all Albertans."
Within Canada, Alberta is the only jurisdiction that does not give women an institutional voice. Across the country, there are official advisory councils to government on the status of women, women's secretariats that form part of larger government ministries and, in select jurisdictions, entire ministerial portfolios dedicated to the status of women.
"Women's voices must be heard if this unfair treatment to be ended. All other jurisdictions in Canada give women an official avenue to raise their concerns with government. A Minister for the Status of Women would be able to analyze what happens in other regions to find which policies best contribute to women's equality," says Furlong.
"Alberta used to be at the forefront of the fight for equality, led by the Famous Five and their campaign to have women declared ‘persons' under the law. It is time for Alberta to take back that leadership role," she says.
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-720-8945 (cell)
Policy statement presented at AFL 45th Constitutional Convention, May 10 - 13, 2007
Edmonton - A poll conducted by Public Interest Alberta (PIA) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) indicates that most Albertans do not support the Harper government's plans to replace the Child Care program of the previous Liberal government with $100 per month payments to parents of pre-school age children.
"Our poll shows that only 35 % of Albertans agree with the Harper child care program," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "The Prime Minister should take not of this - because if barely a third of the voters in the heartland of Tory Alberta support the program, imagine the response in the rest of Canada."
"One of the most important findings of the poll was that the more people know about the Harper government's child care program, the less likely they are to support it," says McGowan. "We suggest that this means that support for the program will continue to dwindle as time goes on. It really indicates that the federal Tories should scrap it entirely."
McGowan suggests that there are many good reasons for Albertans to oppose the dismantling of the old Liberal national child care program. "First, child care is more and more a labour issue," says McGowan. "The number of children in Alberta who have both parents in the workforce continues to grow - making child care a more and more important workplace issue. In 2003, 53% of all children in Alberta under the age of five (117,000 out of 219,000) had both parents in the workforce."
"When you look strictly at the 3 to 5 year old range, however, the percentage who have both parents working climbs to 71%," says McGowan. "For Alberta parents, child care isn't a luxury - it's a necessity"
However, according to McGowan, the desperate need for high-quality, accessible and affordable child care isn't being met in Alberta. "There aren't nearly enough spaces available in quality public child care centres," notes McGowan, "and while wages for child care workers remain shockingly low, most the cost of quality child care is more than many parents can bear."
With the federal Liberal national child care program, the Alberta government received $45 million this year and was in line for $70 million each year for the following four years. The province used the new federal money to fund a five point plan that is helping to create new child care spaces in Alberta; that provides subsidies for parents and that subsidizes the wages and training of child care workers.
"If the Harper government goes ahead with its plans", warns McGowan, "the money for a national program - and the money that Alberta has been using to finance its own five point child care plan - will disappear.
"If that happens, our poll indicates that 61% of Albertans want the provincial government to step in and find the money to continue funding the five point plan that, up until now, has been funded with federal money", concludes McGowan. "Albertans recognize that the need for these programs is great. And they recognize that the interests of our children are too important to be ignored. Let's just hope that our leaders get the message."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599
The Conservative government needs to stop living in an ideological past that no longer exists and support a national child care program, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today. The AFL President was participating at news conference with Public Interest Alberta to pressure the provincial government to sign a deal with the federal government on child care. The AFL is Alberta's largest labour organization, representing over 113,000 workers and their families.
"The Conservatives need to pull their heads out of the sand and realize that the 'leave-it-to-beaver' era is over and that most mothers simply can't afford to stay home full-time with their kids," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "54% of families with pre-schoolers have both parents working. There is a great need for quality, affordable child care in this province."
The new reality that families need two incomes to make ends meet, McGowan points out, means the government has a responsibility to the 117,000 families needing child care. "And that responsibility is to ensure a strong supply of affordable, high quality child care spaces."
McGowan says that government arguments claiming parents don't want centre-based child care don't stand up to scrutiny. "First, there are not enough spaces currently available. Second, if you have to pay $600 to $700 per month per child, quite frankly that is more than most Albertans can afford. It is not a real choice."
McGowan challenges the government to test their ideological assumptions. "If you build affordable child care, they will come. That is why we cannot afford to squander this historic opportunity. The province needs to sign a deal with the federal government as soon as possible - one that provides for adequate funding for non-profit, affordable, high-quality child care."
McGowan also raised the issue of low pay for child care workers. "Child care workers are the backbone of the system, but we pay them the same as people who pump gas. That needs to change." McGowan points out that early childhood educators earn $10.37 an hour on average.
"If we ever hope to build a real child care system in this province, one that parents can have confidence in, then we are going to have to accept the idea that we need a public system that is generously funded, and that pays child care workers the wages they deserve," McGowan concluded.
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For More Information
Gil McGowan, President, 915-4599 (cell)
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Campaign Launch News Conference, May 2005
(In the spring of 2005, the AFL joined Public Interest Alberta in launching a province-wide campaign to pressure the Alberta government to support the long overdue national child care program being proposed by the then-Liberal federal government.)
Some of you might be wondering why a union leader is participating in this event.
When you think of unions, you probably don't think of finger-painting and story time.
But I'm here today for two reasons.
First, because I'm a father - and children and child care issues are near and dear to my heart.
But, more importantly, I'm here because child care has become a fundamental workplace issue.
In the labour movement, we respond to the challenges that confront people at work.
Those challenges have been different at different times in our history.
When the challenge was unsafe working conditions, unions fought for and won better health and safety protections.
When the challenge was the prospect of poverty in old age, unions fought for and won public and private pensions.
When the challenge was unequal access to health care, unions were at the forefront of the battle for Medicare.
Today, here in Alberta and across the country, the issue many working people are struggling with is the issue of child care.
To understand the scope of the problem, we have to look no further than the study that was released yesterday by researchers from the University of Toronto.
What the study shows is what most of us know from our own personal experiences - namely that the majority of parents have to work to ends meet.
And when they work, they need to make arrangements for the care of their children.
To put the situation in concrete terms, consider the numbers.
In 2003, there were about 219,000 kids in Alberta between the ages of 6 months and five years.
Of those kids, 117,000 had mothers who were in the paid workforce.
That means 54 percent of Alberta pre-schoolers have a mother who works. And that's just the average for the group - when you look at Alberta mothers whose youngest child is a little older - between 3 and 5 - then, 71 per cent are in the workforce.
Of course, not everyone is working full-time - but it comes pretty close. On average, kids of working parents in Alberta need some kind of care arrangement for 22 hours a week.
At this point we have to be clear about something. The vast majority of two-income families in this province are not working only because they want to - they are working because they have to.
Even here in prosperous Alberta, the reality is that most families need two incomes to maintain their hold on the middle class.
As a result, there is a large and demonstrated need for high-quality, accessible, affordable child care services in this province.
And that's the problem - the need is not being met.
As a father and someone who advocates for working people, I look at the system we have in this province and I come away feeling deeply frustrated and, frankly, more than a little angry.
By almost any measure, we are the wealthiest province in country.
But as Bill pointed out, despite our wealth, we have the fewest available spaces in regulated child care facilities.
We spend the lowest amount on child and early education services. Quebec spends more than $4,800 for each regulated child care space; places like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario spend more than $2,000 - and we spend $816.
But it doesn't end there. To top things off, we are the only province where spending on early childhood services has actually declined over the past ten years.
To put it in a nutshell, we are at the bottom of the pack and moving backwards.
Largely as a result of under-funding, we have a system that can't really be called a system. It's a patch-work - one that is failing kids and failing parents.
The good news is that, there is a ray of hope.
After years of unfulfilled promises, the federal government has finally agreed to move forward with a national child care strategy - and they've set aside $7 billion to get the ball rolling.
The bad news is that our provincial government and their allies in the federal conservative party have, for reasons that can best be described as ideological, been throwing up roadblocks to Alberta's participation in the national program.
That's why we're all here today.
We want to encourage our province to do the right thing.
We want them to do what other provinces have done and agree to participate in the national childcare program.
We also want them to pull their heads out of the sand and realize that the "leave-it-to-Beaver" era is over and that most mothers simply can't afford to stay home full-time with their kids.
Most importantly, we want to make sure Alberta doesn't squander this historic opportunity to build a system that parents can have confidence in and that can provide the kind of quality care and early education that our kids need.
At this point I'd like to quickly address some of the arguments and suggestions put forward by those opposed to the national child care plan.
They say they want parents to have choice. And they point to the fact that only about 20 percent of Alberta parents put their kids in centre-based child care. They say that proves that Albertans don't really want the kind of care being proposed under the national program.
But the real reason Alberta parents aren't choosing centre-based care isn't that they oppose the idea - it's that they usually can't afford it.
It�s true we have some subsidies - but they don't cover the full cost and they are available to only a small group of low-income parents.
So if parents want to put their kids in quality programs, they have to pay between $600-700 per month per child. Frankly, especially for parents with more than one child, that's more than most of us can afford.
A choice that you can't afford is not really a choice at all. So if we want to give parents a real choice - then we have to properly fund high quality care, so it is affordable and accessible to all families regardless of income.
The second thing that opponents of the national program talk about is using tax breaks instead of direct public funding of child care centre to address the problem.
Rona Ambrose from the federal Conservative party for example, for example talks about tax incentives for businesses to set up on-site daycares and $2,000 a year tax breaks for families to encourage one parent to stay at home.
With all due respect to Ms. Ambrose, $2,000 isn't going to replace the income earned by one parent. I'd don't know were she lives, but for most of us $2,000 isn't going to pay the mortgage for a year. We'd be lucky if it covered the grocery bill for a few months.
As far as the idea of tax incentives for businesses go - most Albertans work in small workplaces with 50 employees or less.
I don't care how many incentives you give businesses that small, they're simply not going to be able to afford to establish their own childcare centre - and even if they do, they're likely to be nothing more than babysitting stations, not real centres for child development and learning.
The real solution is the one that research and experience has pointed us towards for years - and that is the creation of a system of quality, publicly supported child care centres that are affordable and accessible. Most Albertans currently don't have that option - but based on the demonstrated demand that's out there, I'm convinced that if we build it, they will come.
Before I wrap up, I just want to say a few words about a group of people who sometimes are overlooked in the debate on child care.
We talk about the kids, we talk about parents - but we also need to talk about the child care workers themselves.
In many ways, child care workers are the backbone, the life blood of a quality child care system. They are the people that bring quality child care and early childhood education programs to life.
But they are also the workers most likely to be under-paid and under-valued in our economy.
Here in Alberta in 2003, the average pay for early childhood educators with three years experience was a paltry $10.37 an hour.
That's about the same pay earned by landscape labourers and people who pump gas.
Among all the workers who need specialized training and certification to do their jobs, child care workers are the lowest paid, bar none.
If we ever hope to build a real child care system in this province, one that parents can have confidence in, one that focuses on developing kids' potential instead of simply warehousing them, then we're going to have to accept the idea that we need a public system; that we're going to have to fund it generously; and that we're going to have to offer decent pay so we can attract and retain high calibre workers.
With the proposal from the Federal government, we have an opportunity to do all those things. Today our message for the province government is clear - don't squander this historic opportunity. Don't cut Alberta kids out of the national child care program.